How Do 3 Big Payroll Services Compare?

UPDATE: Time never stands still, and that aphorism certainly applies in the payroll service world. This article has become one of our most popular, so with all of the changes in payroll services for QuickBooks customers, it was overdue for a refresh. At long last, here it is.

Best Choice for Payroll Processing for 1 Company:

Best Choice for Payroll Processing for Up To 3 Companies

As every business owner knows, it takes a lot of work to turn timesheets into a completed payroll either in the form of paychecks or direct deposits, calculate all deductions, and process all payroll taxes. That’s where payroll software and services prove their value on a regular basis.

In response to a request, we undertook a comparison of 3 big payroll services: Intuit, ADP, and Paychex. We did our initial comparison in late 2008, and we freshened that analysis at the start of 2011.

Since our initial analysis, there were some big changes in the payroll processing world. In 2009, Intuit acquired PayCycle for about $170 million. PayCycle was one of the largest players in the online payroll processing market, and the acquisition added significantly to its share of this market. The big impact: Intuit’s focus on online payroll products has increased.

Since we conducted our initial analysis more than 2 years ago, the cost of Intuit’s online payroll offerings has either dropped by 24% or gone up by 4%, depending on the product you choose, and there are more online products from which to choose. In the same time period, the effective cost of its desktop payroll products has jumped by 32%. It’s easy to see that Intuit is encouraging users to process payroll online by making the online service offerings more capable and widening the price gap to similar desktop products.

Let’s see how the 3 payroll service providers stack up in 2011.

First, the basics. Our objective was to find the right software or service to prepare payroll and file/pay all payroll taxes for a firm with a payroll of 10 employees paid weekly in a specific northern Virginia zip code. Payroll costs should easily integrate with the QuickBooks GL. Once implemented, the firm will be switching from the current manual payroll system.

We started with online quote systems and supplemented what we learned with phone calls and emails to pin down the details.

In payroll processing, as you’ll soon see, the devil is in the details. We compared:

If you need to distribute physical checks to employees, there are some fundamental differences between Intuit’s service offerings and the competitors we evaluated. For all of the Intuit services, an organization must print any physical checks it needs to distribute. For all but 1 service plan (Assisted Payroll) it also needs to print any forms that will be distributed to employees, such as W2’s. For ADP & Paychex, delivery of physical checks and forms is either included or available as an extra-cost service. Printing checks and forms is a routine task that QuickBooks users perform regularly. Therefore, if the savings are significant, the small amount of extra work to print any required payroll checks isn’t a big hurdle to adopt Intuit’s services.

Intuit Online Payroll provides the “anytime, anywhere” advantage of Software as a Service (SaaS), allowing you to manage payroll from any web-accessible PC. It covers up to 100 employees (a practical limit). Depending on the version of Online Payroll you choose, it includes the tax payment and filing capability of its more expensive relative, QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll. Of course, it integrates with QuickBooks.

Intuit Online Payroll comes in 2 flavors: Basic and Plus with monthly costs of $25 and $39 respectively.1 Quoted monthly costs don’t tell the whole story. The standard monthly fee includes service for 1 employee, and every additional employee costs $1.50 per month. For a 10 employee company, that takes the monthly costs up to $38.50 for Basic and $52.50 for Enhanced. Offsetting that jump in monthly cost is the fact that Intuit Online Payroll does not charge extra for direct deposit fees. Another consideration is that Online Basic doesn’t support paying 1099 contractors, but Online Plus does.2 Online Basic doesn’t complete state tax forms – an important task in payroll processing. One other wrinkle: Intuit Online Payroll Plus provides state tax processing for 1 state at its standard monthly rate; every additional state is an extra $12 per month. Although we include it in our comparison table, we can’t consider Online Basic as a viable contender in our comparison.

QuickBooks Basic Payroll is targeted at firms that need to process payroll and want up-to-date tax tables for payroll calculations but will prepare, file, and pay payroll taxes either on their own or with the assistance of their outside accountant. Despite the “Basic” in its name, this is a desktop product and is separate from Online Basic. QuickBooks Basic Payroll is a good value for firms with up to 3 employees, and for an extra cost it can handle an unlimited number of employees. Payroll can be completed by printing a check or making a direct-deposit, but direct deposits carry an extra fee of $1.25 per deposit. When combined with your payroll frequency, this direct deposit fee has a big impact on the smart choice for payroll processing. If you pay frequently, it tips the scales to a service like Online Payroll Plus that doesn’t carry a direct deposit fee. Like Online Basic’s lack of state payroll tax processing, QuickBooks Basic Payroll doesn’t meet one of our requirements – filing and paying payroll taxes. Therefore, the desktop Basic Payroll is just included for completeness.

QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll is designed for firms that want to process payroll and prepare, file, and pay payroll taxes. Enhanced, just like Basic, can make payroll with either a paycheck or a direct-deposit, and direct-deposits carry the same extra charge of $1.25 per deposit made. With Enhanced Payroll, a company can file payroll taxes at no cost with E-File and pay those taxes with E-Pay. At year-end, Enhanced Payroll provides the links for a firm to print W2’s on its own hardware and forms.

QuickBooks Assisted Payroll extends the service of Enhanced Payroll3 to include Intuit preparing, filing, and paying payroll taxes. It also has an extra cost option to supply complete W2 forms at year-end. Of course, strong integration with the QuickBooks GL is standard.

One of the important differentiators for Intuit payroll service offerings is the number of different employer identification numbers supported. An employer identification number (EIN), or tax identification number, is a unique number issued to a business. If you need to process payroll for several businesses, don’t overlook the number of EIN’s supported, because this detail can completely change the outcome of this comparison. QuickBooks Assisted Payroll and Intuit Online Payroll, including Basic and Plus, are designed to process payroll for a single EIN. If you have 3 companies that need payroll processing, plan on buying 3 subscriptions. QuickBooks desktop-based Basic and Enhanced handle up to 3 EIN’s.

All of the Intuit payroll offerings feature direct deposit. Many employers are finding that some employees want to be paid by funding a debit card. That’s a common need for employees that don’t have easy access to a bank or don’t feel comfortable using online banking features. Intuit has addressed this need with its own Intuit-branded debit card called the Intuit PayCard, and any direct deposit payroll payment can make use of this capability.

For small businesses, ADP has 3 packages: Compliance, Compliance with Pay Convenience, and Compliance with Pay Convenience and Reporting. Note: The links open images of the actual ADP quotes. Compliance is similar to QuickBooks Basic Payroll except that ADP will supply printed paychecks or make direct deposits; payroll taxes are calculated, but not filed or paid. Compliance with Pay Convenience and Reporting is the most expensive of the 3, and the extra cost is for additional reporting which could be useful in certain environments (e.g., a unionized workplace). ADP’s standard reporting covers most needs. Therefore, we’ll focus on ADP’s Compliance with Pay Convenience, which includes making payroll by paycheck or direct deposit4 and paying/filing all payroll taxes. It also includes a QuickBooks GL interface at no cost if a company’s accountant is a contact for the service.

For Paychex, we evaluated two options: its Flexible pay package and Small Biz paperless option. Flexible was the option quoted on the web, but the quote omitted the cost of a number of services to meet our requirements. Small Biz is a new paperless option quoted by the local Paychex rep that offers a cost significantly lower than other Paychex programs, but it lacks a true QuickBooks GL interface and is only a good choice if all employee payments are made by direct deposit.

In fairness to both ADP and Paychex, we didn’t spend a lot of time updating their pricing, but their approach to marketing their services is to blame. For all of the Intuit offerings, any visitor to the company’s website can see a plainly visible price. To be sure, that price needs to be adjusted for details often buried in footnotes. In contrast, a visitor to the sites of ADP and Paychex won’t find pricing in plain sight. Pricing is only available with a phone call or a contact form submission. Business owners quickly learn a rule of web marketing: if a company doesn’t openly publish prices, its prices aren’t the lowest. Intuit deserves a lot of credit for its relative price openness. There’s still room for improvement, but Intuit is well ahead of ADP and Paychex when it comes to pricing transparency.

Now for our comparisons. First, a word about gathering the data. Our first stop was the website for each service, and in our first pass we followed up with phone calls and emails to company reps. As noted above, for our latest update, we checked in with Intuit but didn’t have time to pursue updated quotes from ADP and Paychex.

Every service had some extra charges that required digging to unearth. But the significance of these extra charges varied widely. While ADP was the most expensive, in our initial comparison it got high marks for responsiveness and directness. Within a day of requesting our quote, we had a follow-up email from an ADP manager. That in turn prompted more questions from us, and in just a few hours, those questions were fully and directly answered.

If ADP was responsive and direct, Paychex was a little harder to work with in our first go-round. Its national sales center wouldn’t give out pricing information, leaving that to a local rep. The local rep provided fast, thorough answers and came up with a recommendation for a different service offering that was 63% below the program quoted online. But if a business is going to have an online quote system and a national sales center, why not let those systems quickly present the company’s best price? More importantly, the cost for the service quoted online was $2028, but the bottom line cost for what we were trying to price was $3889.50, or 92% higher. That’s a lot of extra-cost add-ons that should have been easy to include in the online quote.

Intuit’s payroll team was quickly reachable by phone and provided some of the extra charges that aren’t included or easily located on its website. For Enhanced Payroll, all costs are shown on Intuit’s website. However, Intuit’s Assisted Payroll had 1 add-on cost (i. e., the cost for W2’s) that required a phone call to identify. That item bumped the price by about 5%, far less than the 92% jump for Paychex. Assisted Payroll recently experienced a major price increase that wasn’t included on Intuit’s website as of the date it went into effect, but it did make it online by the time we finished this post. For the Intuit offerings, we applied our ProAdvisor/Affiliate discounts, which you can take advantage of by following the links at the top of this page or on our Buy QuickBooks page. For Enhanced Payroll, the savings is about $112.

You can click on the above image for a larger view or download our updated 2011 Payroll Comparison. 5


So where does that leave us? If yours is a single business processing weekly payroll in 1 state that uses direct deposit for all of its employees, Intuit Online Payroll Plus is your best bet. Take note of our emphasis on weekly payroll, because your payroll frequency has a big impact on your choice. If you only process payroll monthly, the desktop-based QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll is cheaper. With 12 pay periods triggering fewer direct deposit fees, Enhanced Payroll costs about $411.80 compared to $630 for Online Payroll Plus.

If you need to process payroll for more than 1 employer identification number, QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll is the clear winner. At 52 pay periods per year, our chart shows QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll costs $911.80. For 2 or 3 companies, that cost doesn’t change. For QuickBooks Online Payroll Plus, it jumps to $1260 for 2 companies and $1890 for 3. That’s a jump of 38% and 107% respectively.

Outside of the Intuit offerings, the Small Biz paperless option from Paychex was the next cheapest solution – but it’s 136% more expensive than QuickBooks Online Payroll. That extra cost comes with a few compromises: there’s no straightforward QuickBooks GL integration and manual checks would have to be produced for every employee not using direct deposit. If we consider the Paychex Flexible and ADP Compliance with Pay Convenience packages, the cost difference is even greater. Paychex Flexible is 543% more than QuickBooks Online Payroll, and ADP’s package is 477% more expensive. The Paychex cost ignores the cost of getting printed checks, which needs to be added to produce a fair comparison to ADP. That puts Paychex 612% more than the QuickBooks Online Payroll Price. Opting for QuickBooks Online Payroll results in savings of over $2676 compared to ADP and over $3418 compared to Paychex. Those savings are hard to ignore.

Intuit’s Assisted Payroll is priced much lower than either Paychex or ADP if a firm needs physical pay checks (which would rule out the Paychex paperless offering), but it’s more than 3 times the price of QuickBooks Online Payroll Plus. That extra cost gets Intuit to file and pay payroll taxes, along with supplying W2’s. Since Online Payroll Plus includes the no-cost E-File and E-Pay options and the ability to print W2’s, that’s a price difference of almost $1000 for a 10 employee firm for what amounts to a few mouse clicks each pay period.6 Of course, having an outside payroll processor that files and pays taxes imposes a certain discipline on a company, and some firms may find it worth that extra cost for that reason alone.

For companies using QuickBooks, Online Payroll Plus and QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll offer compelling savings. Current Paychex and ADP customers getting at least some printed checks and paying rates equivalent to our quotes could cut costs by 90% and 80%, respectively. A 10 employee firm setting up weekly payroll for the first time would face total costs7 of $12 to $18 per week. Those are numbers that are hard to beat.

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  1. There’s a third option, Household, at $20 per month, but we’ll skip it for terms of this comparison. []
  2. Intuit doesn’t make it clear that Online Plus supports 1099 contractors, but the virtually identical Plus product from Intuit subsidiary PayCycle does, as this PayCycle product comparison table sets forth. []
  3. The monthly charge for Assisted Payroll covers up to 15 employees. Beyond 15, add $1 per employee per pay period. Assisted Payroll isn’t available in IN and WY. []
  4. ADP also offers a debit card option, which can be an attractive option for lower-paid workers that use banking services less frequently. Offering the option can be a way to increase overall acceptance of electronic payment of payroll. []
  5. For a copy of our original data, check out our 2008 Payroll Comparison. []
  6. Because of the pricing structure for Assisted Payroll, the price difference grows rapidly for firms with more than 15 employees that pay on a frequency such as a weekly. For example, every employee paid weekly causes the price difference between Assisted and Online Payroll to grow by $104 per year. []
  7. This cost doesn’t include costs for payroll check and form printing, if they’re required. []


  1. Michael Muise says:

    Hello, I would like to know who the big three are now in 2014,I know two of them are ADP and Ceridian, but you have other payroll companies like Ultimate, Celegro NG, that are even bigger than ADP…



  2. Small Biz admin says:

    excellent article. I can appreciate the author’s emphasis on free transparency. Whenever I can, i avoid giving business to a company that doesn’t post their fee schedule online. It’s just not good business, and it doesn’t help me forecast the cost of running a service for my firm.

    Author – have you considered expanding your comparison to Wagepoint? It’s definitely a smaller firm, but from what I hear they got compliance perfectly done, their primary target market is businesses with 5-25 employees, and they are backed by reputable investors. I would like to see them how they stack against the big boys. Same as Trinet (a bigger boy to be sure).

    Full disclosure – i don’t have any relationships to Wagepoint or Trinet. All my 3 companies are stuck on ADP RUNpayroll. I do wish I had the nerve to switch to a competitor, but if it ain’t broke….

    • Jennifer K. says:

      I hope you’ll reconsider! I run a small payroll service, so I AM biased, but you’re likely to get better service and lower rates if you switch from ADP to a smaller company. You’ll also be supporting smaller businesses instead of boosting ADP’s stock prices (by the way – you can view their profit margin on their SEC filings). And as a company that works locally instead of nationally, a smaller provider may be more aware of local rules and laws that the customer service rep you get when you call ADP won’t be familiar with (this happens A LOT, for instance, in California, a corporate shareholder can waive state disability insurance & a 40-hour workweek (10 hour days) is allowed if you follow a very strict implementation and reporting policy – when we take business from ADP, the owners always are very surprised by this). This week, I had someone call me who had a household employee that was under the limit for the payroll requirement. She had also spoken with ADP who told her that they needed to be on payroll as soon as she began making payments. We sent her the correct information (with source information), and while we didn’t get her as a customer, it was only because she didn’t need a payroll service at this time. Yes, ADP and Paychex are well known and trusted, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get poorer service from a small provider or that ADP/Paychex are infallible.

  3. Ron Keys says:

    Very good article but somewhat confusing for a new small business owner. I am leaning toward quickbooks. So basically as long as I have the money to pay for the taxes being taken out I can do payroll myself?? This is the most important factor to me. Please send me an email with if you think I said is the right choice for me to do payroll myself.

    • Chief Mechanic says:

      You raise an interesting point. If you use a full service payroll processor, when you fund your payroll, you’ll have to fund payroll taxes too. That means there’s less chance to fall behind. When you handle payroll yourself, you have to have the discipline to make your payroll tax deposits and filings in a timely manner. That’s true whether or not you have the money, because there are business that can make the payment but overlook it until after the due date.

      Handling your own payroll processing takes discipline. If you or your organization lacks that, go with a full service processor. If you can’t fund your full payroll (including taxes), whatever system you use will break down in short order, forcing you to address that, such as by adding capital or reducing payroll.

  4. On balance, a very good article, with helpful comparisons. While clearly not the author’s primary focus in writing the article, the difference between “full service” and “partial service” payroll packages should be carefully considered. Small business owners should think about the time commitment and liability associated with witholding payroll funds, making timely tax deposits and filing their own tax reports. Many a company has gotten into trouble by witholding funds and not having the funds when time to make the deposit, or has improperly filed returns. As a long time small business owner with a strong financial and legal background, I would not even consider doing this myself. In my opinion, there are not many areas in business where you can offload such a time comittment and risk, for such a small incremental cost. No matter which service you choose, do yourself a favor and let the professionals handle this and spend the extra time and effort working on your business. For what it’s worth, I use two of the company’s services above, but have no other affilation or interest in any of the three.

    • Chief Mechanic says:

      All valid points, Mike. It’s up to each individual business owner to strike the appropriate balance between what the services cost and what they deliver. Not all would agree with the “I would not even consider…” part of your comment, and hopefully a free market gives everyone the ability to consider and decide freely and independently.

  5. I have worked with PayChex in the past. Frankly, their customer service is not so exciting. Their sales people are pretty slick with persons who aren’t up to par with payroll services, and are too busy to investigate. ADP was a viable solution in the past. However, with the improvements Intuit has made to all of their software products, it’s worth utilizing the payroll option. Cost savings are a little more if one is a ProAdvisor, and uses Accountants versions. That has made QB extremely attractive. ADP is attractive with their HR management offerings. However, there’s no pricing transparency – and that is a problem for me. As someone who has used multiple payroll software programs, and payroll companies, I continue to find myself back in the lap of Intuit – who regardless of their pricing – always takes care of me.

  6. Scott Louie says:

    Glad I discovered this web page, I have been looking into some different choices for pay-roll. This provides a lot of details for individuals in only one resource.

    Thanks a lot for sharing

  7. Hi
    I am looking for any documentation or screen shot of file format on how can I import my employee time and attendance data to quack book? Thanks

  8. I’m sorry to say this but this article is junk. It’s misinforming because you’re comparing apples to oranges. Quickbooks online is basically an advanced calculator. In fact there are calculator for free online that do the exact same thing. ADP and Paychex are full-service payroll products that offer ancillary features to keep businesses compliant and assist with HR needs. Any business over 5 employees using Quickbooks is dumb for taking on that kind of liability and paying for the service, especially when there are free tax calculators available.

    • Chief Mechanic says:

      You know what’s dumb? That someone by the name of Jake Gardner made a subsequent comment (currently still held in moderation), identifying himself as an ADP manager. It’s fine to be critical of QB, but if you want to do that, at least have the honesty to identify your own possible biases. And be smart enough to realize that when you comment on blogs, you reveal something about your identity. If you’re an ADP manager attacking QB to steer business your way and fatten your wallet, reasonable people see that, discard your comments, and think less of you for having been foolish enough to waste your time.

      • Chief Mechanic, you’re right. And for what’s worth, I apologize for appearing disrespectful and saying the article is “dumb” because the article is well-thought – I just feel it makes an unparallel comparison that is (unintentionally) misleading. And you’re right, I do work for ADP – I posted the other comment. I just believe that Quickbooks is a misleading payroll product. In my opion, I think products like Quickbooks should be compared to other products like it – eg, SurePayroll, Chase QuickPayroll, etc. – because it isn’t a full-service payroll provider and takes on no tax filing liability (unless you upgrade to the Premier package, which almost no one does). I’m not getting business or anything by commenting on this site, and that wasn’t my intention. I’m just a real advocate of what full-service payroll companies offer whether it be ADP or a competitor (and not due to sipping the company kool-aid).

        So, Chief Mechanic, please accept my apology. But do consider writing a follow-up article to this one that truly differentiates the differences, so that consumers know the main differences.

        • Chief Mechanic says:

          Jake, no worries on the apology. You’re defending your product, and that in itself is not a bad thing. Your points are well taken, but I think you’re not giving the article its due. I think the article makes clear that QB payroll options – excluding Intuit’s Assisted Payroll – are self-service solutions. As I understand it, ADP offers full service payroll options similar to QB Assisted Payroll, and those are the services for which it is most well known. It also offers (or did so at the time this article was published), other options that were cheaper and offered fewer services. As we said in the article ADP “got high marks for responsiveness and directness.”

          Unfortunately, for many small businesses, choosing a payroll service provider comes down to price. Admittedly, the full service features of all payroll service firms, whether it’s ADP or Intuit’s Assisted Payroll, are nice luxuries, but some businesses may choose to spend their dollars elsewhere. In a comment of yours that we have yet to publish, you made the point that the comparison is unfair because it ignores front-loaded costs, such as buying a printer to print checks or paying for supplies. However, that’s only true if a business doesn’t otherwise have a printer. If it has a printer, the marginal wear-and-tear and cost of supplies to print a few payroll checks each pay cycle is negligible.

          We think business owners by and large understand the adage that you get what you pay for. If a business pays more money, whether to Intuit or ADP, that outside service provider will provide more services and take on more responsibilities. We also think that each business owner is in the best position to determine where to spend its dollars, whether that’s utilizing already paid-for in-house company talent and resources to take on the responsibility to tackle payroll issues or to use an outside provider like Intuit’s Assisted Payroll or ADP or Paychex to handle those responsibilities. There are good arguments to be made for each choice, and business owners that make a less than perfect choice are always free to change. Free markets are great.

  9. Thanks for all the info on payroll service options. I just have to say I think it’s pretty risky to use QuickBooks payroll unless you are expert in payroll and tax laws. It’s really easy to go wrong here and get into a terrible mess. I have inherited such a bookkeeping situation. My predecessor was a pretty good bookkeeper, and so am I, but by no means a payroll expert. I have spent so many hours on the phone with the IRS & with QuickBooks payroll support trying to get our GL to match IRS & EDD records and show what we owe for what periods.Aside from discussion of quality of customer service and online entry & reporting, just the hours spent on the phone trying to undo mistakes make it not cost effective. In order to make the end of the year FUTA adjustments I was in the phone queue and walking through entries with a QB payroll specialist for over an hour. They advised me to always call them with any complex questions. I think that’s because payroll is complex, and they cannot automate everything, but as a marketing approach, they are putting out the message that payroll is simple, you can do it yourself! Save money by doing your own with QuickBooks!

    A full service payroll service would have just taken care of it. I work with really small businesses with fewer than 20 employees and usually use a local mom and pop payroll service that is great. My rep knows taxes and accounting and can tell me what to do in any circumstance. They are not high tech, I have to call them to change my rates for vacation accrual and stuff like that, but they always answer the phone and I have had the same rep for 5 years. And I can get copies of all my quarterly reports from them and not have to wonder if my 941 from 2009 was overwritten when someone deleted a payroll check and is now different from what was filed.

    I have lost my nerve for using QuickBooks payroll. I been on it for 6 months with this one client, and it took me a few months to realize it (duh!) I am wasting so much time trying to do the payroll in-house. Just not worth it.

    • Chief Mechanic says:

      Your observations about the pitfalls of doing payroll in-house are real. Keep in mind that Intuit does offer a full service payroll option that addresses your concerns. If a firm determines it has the skill set and the energy to tackle payroll in-house, Intuit gives them the ability to do it cost effectively. If it doesn’t want to get in the payroll trenches and do it on its own, Intuit covers that too. It’s up to each individual business owner to decide what works best.

  10. 2013 Update??? says:

    I am exceptionally confused by the “up to date information” you’ve provided. My company used to have ADP’s compliance package. We were recently upgraded at no extra cost to their newer offering, something called RUN. It’s the easiest thing to use ever, extremely cost effective, and no extra fees for downloading into quickbooks. Shouldn’t you check other companies’ current offerings before calling something a 2013 review? I know Paychex has had some major small business product changes as well, but we prefer ADP for it’s all-in-one biz help

    • Chief Mechanic says:

      We’re sorry if you found it confusing. The date on the article is updated whenever any element of the article is updated. The article does need a refresh, but it’s clear from the content that it has been some time since we’ve revised the entire article. It’s good that ADP is working well for you. ADP is a great company. The problem with updating this article to include information on new offerings from ADP and Paychex is that they have generally been less transparent than Intuit, especially when it comes to pricing. That causes the amount of time it takes to do an article refresh to skyrocket, which pushes it further down the “to do” list. If you or ADP or Paychex would like to see updated information, have ADP or Paychex email us product features and pricing for the relevant services.

      • [ Editor’s note: Mike’s comment has been edited to remove self-serving gobbledygook. ]

        …The problem with updating this article to include information on new offerings from ADP and Paychex is that they have generally been less transparent than Intuit, especially when it comes to pricing…

        ADP has the most transparent pricing out there. They have an all inclusive price that includes delivery, FSDD, tax filing, etc .. Their prices sometimes include discounts, which will last the LIFETIME of the service, not just 6 months/year.

        Yes, it will be more expensive to go with a payroll provider like ADP vs. going with Quickbooks, but it also takes the burden of having to worry about tax filing or printing checks off your back. As a business owner, how much is your time valued at? And that health insurance that you will be needing, how will you be taking care of that? how about the Workers comp, and the 401k plans? … ADP can do it all for you.

        • Chief Mechanic says:

          We obviously have a disagreement on the definition of “transparent.” One shouldn’t have to call an ADP rep to get current pricing. If ADP or PayChex emails us pricing, we’ll review it, post it if we can authenticate it, and update the article accordingly. ADP is a great company. Unfortunately, they have opted to be less transparent than Intuit when it comes to pricing, and for those that want to shop online without communicating with a rep, that hurts them. Presumably, ADP factored that impact into its business model. Staking a false claim to transparency is just self-serving gobbledygook, and on a blog where comments are moderated, it’s little more than a waste of time.

          • Well Chief, I’m sorry that you think that is all “gobbledygook”, but people that shop just online based on price don’t realize what they are getting. Speaking with a rep and learning a little something for 10-15 minutes on one of the most important aspects of their business, may help most people.

            Bottom line is, if you wish to take the burden of payroll off your back, not worry about payroll taxes with the government, and have everything done correctly, a payroll vendor is better. It may be a bit more money, but it allows you to focus on the business and not whether you filed your taxes on time or not.

            I stick by my claim that ADP is transparent pricing. Idk about PayChex, but 10 minutes in the phone woth ADP will get you your quote. If you can’t afford 10 minutes to learn what you would be paying for, you would be doing yourself a disservice.

            Thanks Chief.

          • Chief Mechanic says:

            People are free to determine what factors are important to their decisions. If someone decides to shop online solely based on price, that’s his or her decision. It’s presumptuous of you to say they “don’t realize what they are getting” since you’re not in position to know what they do or don’t realize. It’s fair for you to say that’s not an approach you follow yourself or that you recommend to others, but you venture into gobbledygook territory when you presume to know what’s in the mind of people you’ve never met and never exchanged any communication.

            On transparent pricing, as the old expression says, the proof is in the pudding. If ADP has transparent pricing, email it. Post it on the web and include a link here. Intuit’s pricing is out there in public for all the world to see. Is ADP a little shy? Does it need technical assistance putting the pricing on the web? No? You mean ADP chooses not to provide pricing in that manner? We get it, and so does anyone that has even a vague understanding of the concept of transparency.

  11. Small business owner says:

    Thank you for this article! I have a small business with 5 employees. I have been using Paychex for the past 3 years and do not like their price and my representative. My accountant also has been telling me to get quickbooks to make keeping track of everything easier for me. So I am looking into purchasing quickbooks with payroll attached to it but i am not sure what product to get because there sre so many qb and intuit products out there. I would really appreciate any advice you have. i would like it set up as easy as possible, where I can just input hours the employee worked bi weekly and where I do not have to file any tax reporting myself because I would have no idea how to do that. Is the quickbooks with payroll the best option for me? it would be the first time uding quickbooks and a different payroll service and I’m a little scared of change but look forward to saving some money on payroll and having things more organized with qb hopefully. Any advice is much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Jennifer Kunst says:

      I hope you don’t mind me taking a few of your questions.

      For Quickbooks, if your business does not need to track inventory, go with the basic Quickbooks Pro desktop version. It has many more features (PC version) than the online version and doesn’t require a monthly subscription. The cost is a little higher up front to purchase the software, but certainly worth it.

      To get it set up and learn how to use it, you should consider bringing in a bookkeeper or Quickbooks Pro Advisor to assist you. Having everything set up properly will save you time and headaches in the long run. Quickbooks will also auto-fill account information for repeat entries, so once set up properly, the program will, in a way, walk you through the day to day maintenance.

      For payroll, I’m biased because I provide payroll services, but as far as Quickbooks goes, they now require you to subscribe to Quickbooks Payroll to run everything through the desktop program, but you can have your bookkeeper set up liability and expense accounts to avoid the extra fees – especially if you’re using Intuit’s online payroll service or an outside payroll company – either will compile your tax liabilities and expenses and prepare your tax filings.

      Good luck!

  12. Several statements mention that QB does not take on the liability that Paychex or ADP assume, but I spoke with Intuit today regarding Assisted Payroll and under that plan they told me they assume the liability for correct reporting with a guarantee. Are the above comparisons with other Intuit plans or am I misunderstanding something? Thanks for your help!

    • Chief Mechanic says:

      Craig – Assisted Payroll is like Paychex and ADP, as we mention in the post: “QuickBooks Assisted Payroll extends the service of Enhanced Payroll to include Intuit preparing, filing, and paying payroll taxes.” When Intuit prepares and files forms, they take responsibility for them. For other Intuit payroll products, you’d prepare and file the forms, so naturally you’d take responsibility. Assisted Payroll is the most expensive of Intuit’s offerings, but it includes the most service. The more you are willing to pay, the more you can off-load work and responsibility to a service provider. Finding the best payroll service really comes down to striking the balance that’s right for your business and making sure the payroll service integrates with the rest of your financial accounting system.

  13. Glad I found this website, I have been looking into some different options for payroll. This provides a lot of information for people in a single source.

  14. QualityCounts says:

    Sitting here with a W-2 that is grossly in error and Paychex insists it is correct. Would expect that from a small company but not a national firm.

    • Mistakes can happen with firms of all sizes. Paychex is a reputable company. I’m sure if you contact them or your employer if you’re the employee, it will get fixed. There are forms to make corrections to W2’s because the need to make corrections happens on a regular basis.

  15. The truth to the matter is that Paychex, ADP, and Intuit offer different products and levels of service so it is important that a business owner looks into all 3 options. Paychex and ADP have differnt target markets do not offer apples to apples comparisons.

    Obviously, Paychex and ADP are more expensive than QuickBooks, however, you lose the protection of having a payroll company take away the liability that comes with doing your own payroll. Payroll is exact…..and payroll errors are freququent amongst Quickbooks users. 1 in 3 business owners are penalized each year by the IRS and state agencies for errors with Employee witholdings, Employer contributions, W2’s. W3’s ( most of my clients don’s even know what a W3 is!) 941’s, 1099’s etc. Paychex and ADP gurantee against these penalties and take the liablity away from the client. Intuit does not.

    When it comes to time, Paychex and ADP do everything for the client so the client doesn’t have to. Intuit is a do-it-yourself HELP application. It’s helps a client do it themselves. I work with a lot of bookeepers that use Intuit for their clients….they are bookeepers….THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING! If you dont know what you are doing…Intuit will lead you in the path of bad service and payroll tax penalties and intrest.

    I am biased when it comes to Paychex ansd ADP because I am a Paychex employee. I think the Paychex model of a one on one payroll specialist for each client vs ADP’s 1-800 wait on hold scenario works better for the SMB client. With that being said, they do a damn good job of payroll processing and tax filing. If ADP was a bad company, I wouldnt have a job, because there would be no real competition for Paychex. I battle ADP daily for sales with new clients…win some, and lose some. Thats just the way it goes. many clients go back and forth every few years between the two for savings or new promotions. Eventually, I believe Paychex will win out in the long run bevause of our service model and senior leadership.

    • You said a mouthful when you said you are biased. Intuit offers full service plans just like Paychex and ADP, so your claim that Intuit is a “do-it-yourself HELP application” is false. No one ever said Paychex and ADP weren’t great companies. We said they aren’t transparent when it comes to pricing. Since you’re a Paychex employee, how about proving us wrong and posting a verifiable price list for your services? The day and age of hiding behind a quote system or negotiating every deal are numbered. Do a great service, price it fairly, and let the public know the pricing in a transparent way.

  16. ADP Expert says:

    I’m confused where this price comparison is coming from. I am familiar with both Paychex and ADP, as well as the services QucikBooks and Intuit offer. That fact that ADP takes full liability for all payroll tax filings and deposits is just one small aspect that separates them from QB. However, what this article doesn’t tell you is the additional service that ADP gives for the pricing….

    [excessive self-promotion redacted by moderators to avoid unnecessarily wasting bandwidth]

    • ADP Salesperson/Promoter Expert, we redacted your lengthy copy/paste of ADP marketing facts because they were largely off-topic and were an attempt to sell ADP behind an anonymous cloak. There’s no question ADP is a great company and has many strong product offerings. If you have specific updates to the comparisons in the article, email them to us and we’ll review them for inclusion in the article. Our goal is not to describe every nuance of ADP’s (or Intuit’s) payroll service. Instead, we’re focusing on the issues that we believe are the most relevant to QB users. Comments that stick to that focus get approved; those that don’t get edited or trashed.

      Hope that helps.

  17. It looks like Paycyle is now Online Payroll – is this right?
    Thanks for the post –

  18. I just had a presentation from Paycheck telling me that their online payroll system can integrate the payroll to quickbooks by uploading some data and interface paycheck payroll to quickbooks. I’m still trying to investigate this.

    • Thanks, Morris. Let us know what you find out. Keep in mind there are different approaches to integration. Intuit controls access to the QB data file through its Software Developer’s Kit (SDK). Ideally, Paychex would use the SDK to write an application that would allow it to post general ledger entries summarizing your payroll activity. With this approach, you’d identify to the Paychex application certain GL accounts, so the app would know how to record the entries. While that’s the ideal approach, some developers opt for a method that may require less work on their part: exporting some type of delimited file which you’d then import into QB. This 2-step export/import process has 2 disadvantages: 1) it’s more work because it is 2 steps rather than 1, and 2) Intuit doesn’t support importing data into a QB data file this way. In fact, there have been hints that importing data into a QB data file on a repeated basis can lead to data corruption. Using Intuit’s SDK is supported and doesn’t come with these potential risks. That should give you a little more background to find out which method Paychex has adopted.

  19. This article was incredibly bias. If you reexamine Paychex and ADP they have changed their packages dramatically. Furthermore this article does not mention that both ADP and Paychex take full liability for deposits and filings for taxes whereas Intuit leaves the responsibility on the client’s shoulders. This is huge as the liability is why companies outsource. The cost of a fine or penalty on a late or inaccurate filing or deposit will pay for the annual service from Intuit.

    • That’s a fair point about liability for the full-service payroll plans, which include Intuit’s Assisted Payroll. In part it comes down to the level of service a business owner wants to pay for. Those that want full service pay a higher price for it, plain and simple. Several comments make mention of changes to ADP and Paychex offerings, but every one of them fails to mention what those changes are. The original article was written some time ago, for a specific comparison. If you have updated, verifiable information on service offerings from either ADP or Paychex, send it along and we’ll update our post. Just because Intuit has what is, in our opinion, the best value in payroll processing doesn’t make the article biased. We’ve said over and over again – and we’ll repeat for your benefit – if the facts show that another provider offers a better value than Intuit, we’ll change our post. We don’t play favorites.

  20. The information provided in this article pertaining to ADP’s offerings is out of date. If you are a business owner reading this article, feel free to contact your local ADP to learn more about our current products and services.

    • ADP Employee, perhaps you missed this direct quote from the article, which carries a date on which it was last updated: “In fairness to both ADP and Paychex, we didn’t spend a lot of time updating their pricing, but their approach to marketing their services is to blame. …Intuit is well ahead of ADP and Paychex when it comes to pricing transparency.” What is the out of date information? Does ADP really expect every individual business owner to have to repeat the same steps to get basic pricing and product information? ADP has good products and services. It would be better to show confidence in those products by transparently providing current pricing on the web. If you have current pricing and service features that are different from what is in our article, email it to us. We’ll happily update our post and revisit our conclusions. After QuickBooks 2012 ships in a week or so, we’ll refresh our analysis for Intuit’s products, so it’s a great time to send along an update.

  21. This whole article is about intuit. Not a good comparison when it’s obvious that you are affiliated with intuit and or quickbooks.

    • Joe, our focus is on QuickBooks and products that connect with it, so it shouldn’t be a shock that we’d cover Intuit’s payroll offerings, since they integrate with QuickBooks. The fact that we’re an Intuit Affilate in no way influenced our assessment of payroll products. The views expressed here are our own, plain and simple. If Intuit offers the best value in payroll services, we’ll say that, and if they don’t, we’re happy to say that as well. People visit our site for our candid opinions, and we’re not going to compromise that to capture an insignificant affiliate commission. If you can point to a specific fact in our comparison that is out-of-date or incorrect, let us know and we’ll correct it.

  22. Looks good, but i have a few questions…
    Are there any up front cost for Intuit payroll?
    where is my customer support center for questions regarding taxes or if i have an issue, who is my contact? are there any ongoing software license fees or anything else i need to know, like year end tax filing (940 / w-2’s, 1099).
    Last question, did i understand correctly that the local and state taxes are not handled by any of Intuits’ payroll options? if so, do i have to prepare my own state tax returns and make my own e-filings, etc.


    • Good questions. The answers depend on which Intuit payroll product you choose. For example, if you choose Enhanced Payoll (the desktop software product), your upfront cost is really your cost to purchase the software. For support, you can call Intuit or you can post questions on our site. Ongoing fees are pretty well covered in the article and vary by product. For Online Payroll, there is a no upfront purchase cost (since it’s a subscription service), but this is a regular fee. For Enhanced Payroll, there is the upfront cost (since it is a software product you buy), but there is no recurring fee. For forms like W2’s and tax forms, you’ll have to buy pre-printed blank forms (carried at most office supply superstores) and print them yourself using the software.

      On state taxes, you’re understanding isn’t quite right. Online Basic doesn’t do state tax filings, but Online Plus does at the rate of $12 per state. Online Payroll is really structured as a “pay for what you need” service, so if you need state tax filing, the service can do it if you sign up for and pay for the service with that capability. With Enhanced Payroll, you can setup and process state forms, though for some local jurisdictions the setup (which you’d typically do once) is more complicated.

  23. Great comparison, but this doesn’t mention anything about benefits a small business may be offering. We offer 401k, short term disability, hospitalization insurance reimbursement, expense reimbursement, workers comp payments and the occasional advance. How do these services compare in being flexible with this variety of deductions?

    • Leo, that could be good material for another article. Most payroll programs or services handle a broad range of deductions, including the ones you mentioned. The differences come in how configuration and setup is accomplished. For example, QB can be configured with custom payroll items that can address every one of the benefits, reimbursements, and advances you mentioned. For services like ADP and Paychex, how these payroll items are setup is less relevant, since the service provider is doing the work. I’ve yet to see a benefit, reimbursement, or advance that couldn’t be accounted for by the offerings covered in the article.

  24. Would your recommendation be “Assisted” for a law firm of 80 employees paid on a bi-weekly basis?

    • John, It comes down to the quality of inhouse administrative support and the level of service you want. For white collar employees, there’s virtually a universal adoption of direct deposit, so there’s rarely a need to print paychecks. Among Intuit’s offerings, that means just about any service will work. With online or enhanced, you’ll need in house admin capabilities, and you’ll need someone (usually your CPA) to give you a schedule of payroll tax filing deadlines. The admin manager will have to make sure payments are made and forms filed. Assisted is more of a “set and forget” method, where you update personnel info as required but aside from funding payroll and filing the reports, there’s a lot less to do. The right choice is based on the firm’s admin skill set, it’s likelihood to keep that skill set over time, and budget.

  25. Although this information is good, it seems confusing for a new business owner trying to determine who’s product is better than who’s.

    • Don’t we come out and say pretty clearly whose product we think is better? Admittedly, there is a lot of info, but which product is best for your business comes down to the specifics of your payroll (frequency, adoption of direct deposit) and what services you want to buy in the marketplace. Payroll service is a lot like other things in this world: the more you want a provider to do, the more you need to expect to pay.

  26. Per Intuit, their Online Payroll does _not_ interface with Quickbooks, only with their limited-function Quickbooks Online version. This requires manual data transfer from Online Payroll to Quickbooks Pro, if you require that. This is not obvious when viewing the Intuit website. Further, per Intuit their is no migration path from Online Payroll to Quickbooks Enhanced Payroll.

    • James, on the issue of the interface between Online Payroll and QuickBooks, it does require an export, and you have to wait a period of time after processing payroll before you can do the export, usually about 30 minutes or so. The export process is described in Intuit’s article on downloading Online Payroll data. It’s inaccurate for you to say that Online Payroll “does _not_ interface with QuickBooks” when it clearly does. As an online program where your data is stored in the cloud, common sense would tell you that there will be some step, usually called exporting, to get that cloud-based data into your desktop software.

      As for a migration path from Online Payroll to desktop software, the export ability I just described handles just about all migration needs.

      Hope that clears up your misinformation.

  27. Small Biz Owner says:

    I came across your page looking for info on ADP pricing – we have a rep trying to sell us on their solution.

    You might also want to take a look at Paycycle – we’ve been using that for five years and love it.

  28. Looks like QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll is no longer the low-cost option. Glad you put the line through it. How much is the Small Biz package from paychex with 5 employees with direct deposit?

    • Wayne, if you’re interested in PayChex pricing, your best bet is to get in touch with a local rep. Given the big price gap to the QB offerings, it’s still likely to be more expensive for 5 employees. Also, while QB Enhanced Payroll doesn’t have absolutely the lowest cost, it’s only about $85 more per year. For that dollar difference, feature differences become more important.